SOME NEW ASPECTS OF SCULPTURE IN RELATION TO ARCHITECTURE AND THE HOME
Artist's foreword to the exhibition
The Architectural Association, London, 1954
Sculptors often say that architects are not interested in using sculpture. That, of course, is not true. The use of sculpture depends on the general attitude of the population. Sculpture was looked upon as an essential part of architecture by past civilisations from which we have inherited our sculptural traditions. Formally it was conceived as in complete unity with architecture and its subject matter reflected the life of the society. This was the case in Europe up to about the beginning of the Renaissance. Then the approach to sculpture began to change, owing to changing factors in society itself. Sculpture ceased to be an essential part of the building, but became more and more a decorative ornament only. This attitude to sculpture came to its full development in the Baroque period and it still is the attitude of the public.
British architecture, even during its best periods, did not make full use of sculpture, but when we come to about 1820, when the 'Battle of the Styles' began, we find 'decorative' sculpture everywhere. Its value matches the falsity of the buildings, which it decorates.
A reaction had to come, and after the First World War the use of sculpture in connection with architecture — with very few exceptions — was discarded. Functionalism got rid of the frills in architecture and that included decorative sculpture. This present day attitude towards sculpture as a decorative ornament only, is one of the main reasons why an architect even if he was prepared to make of sculpture, would find it very difficult to persuade his clients to spend money on it. They are not convinced that it is essential, and they are right in so far as 'decorative' sculpture cannot be essential.
In good periods the tendency has always been to use the same material for sculpture as for the building. We have old timber houses with decorative wood carvings, buildings in brick with fired clay ornaments, and of course, the granite, marble and stone monuments, temples, and buildings of every kind with sculpture in the same material. The idea therefore to use the building material as a medium for sculpture is not new.
My first experiments, in concrete modelling (which started more than thirty years ago), were the low reliefs in mortar. The use of coloured cement and especially prepared aggregates to enrich the texture, was the next stage. This was followed by trying to make the relief grow out of the wall into the third dimension. Or, looking at the problem the other way round, starting the sculpture in the round and making it sink into the wall. These experiments led as a last stage to the groups projecting from the wall - to the 'Horizontals'. All of these works are only possible to carry out on the site, following the bricklayer as the wall goes up.
Modelling in concrete also opens up new possibilities for using sculpture for indoors. The small figures, showing people in their everyday activities and behaviour and the large cut-out relief of the reclining figure are suggestions as to how mantelpiece can be used in displaying sculpture. People who live on the ground often put sculpture in the window, partly as a display and partly to prevent people staring into the room. The large figures in the round, such as shown, could be used for this purpose. They also could be enlarged as outdoor sculptures, built up on the site, so that they can be related in shape, size and colour to the building. The wire mesh is used as a contrast texture to the reliefs and the wall. These reliefs (with non-rusty wires) and the mural paintings in coloured cement and mortar, can also be used on the exterior walls.
Sculpture can only develop if it is used in connection with architecture. Architects cannot suggest the use of sculpture, during the present period of economies, unless it means something to the people for whom the building is built. The subject matter is decisive. If people recognise something out of their own experience they will be able to appreciate it, and will suggest its use.